MEASURES to make farmers more environmentally friendly through Common Agricultural Policy payments are being watered down so much they will result in little benefit, An Taisce has warned.
Proposals to allow farmers to get EU funds without taking additional steps to protect wildlife and the landscape will be futile and costly, a new study published at a conference in Dublin has found.
Talks got under way in Brussels yesterday to attempt to resolve the differences between the EU Commission, Parliament and Council and hammer out a final deal on CAP reform by June.
But the EEB, Europe's largest environmental citizens group, published a study claiming that the environmental proposals put forward by EU farm ministers led by Ireland's Simon Coveney would be a waste of time and money.
That's because they would allow farmers to qualify for new "greening" payments if they used eco-friendly farming measures already paid for under other schemes, such as organic grants.
The report, backed by An Taisce and Birdwatch Ireland, found this would "lead to far greater administrative complexity and cost, both for member states and within the commission, and with little additional environmental benefit".
"The greening of the CAP must simplify rather than expensively over-complicate future delivery of environmental outcomes from agriculture," said EEB spokesman Faustine Defossez.
She said that politicians were trying to maintain the status quo against real reform and this might end up burying the policy in the long term.
The EU Commission has proposed a much stronger link between environmental standards and payments to farmers in a bid to ensure continued public support for the €40bn a year spent on the CAP.
It wants 30pc of payments to farmers to be based on them taking specific eco-friendly measures, including crop diversification, and maintaining permanent grassland and ecological focus areas on farms.
However, politicians have attempted to water this down, citing the need for flexibility in how member states impose greening requirements.
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said the most difficult phase of the CAP reform had got under way yesterday as negotiators from the parliament, the council and commission start three-way discussions to get an acceptable deal.
Compromises would be difficult to achieve on the "greening" proposals, but must "take account of the practical realities of farming in difficult years" as farmers could not be penalised where unseasonal weather made it impossible to implement measures, she said.